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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bet on it

It's becoming more and more obvious that casino gambling will be one of the biggest issues on the table in the coming months.
With Deval Patrick's call for department heads to look for 5-10 percent savings in their budgets, reports that lottery revenues are declining, and "no appetite" for local option taxes such as meal taxes, fiscal 2008 is shaping up as a headache of major proportion.

Probably the most chilling item is the tumble in lottery aid, which forms a solid foundation of the local aid dollars used by cities and towns for police and fire and other basic services.

One of the strongest arguments made in the past against casino gambling is that it would take from the same pool that bets on the daily number, the bigger games and Keno. There is also rightful concern that the lottery is in effect a regressive tax, hitting harder on people who can afford it the least but who are driven by dreams of hitting the lottery and moving onto Easy Street.

I can't recall the studies about who visits Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun but my gut tells me it's not the people who can afford it least. Gasoline, food and lodging are all more expensive than a scratch ticket. But studies do show Massachusetts residents spent nearly $900 million in Connecticut casinos in 2005.

It would be sheer lunacy not to look at reclaiming a part of that revenue stream (not to mention the sales, gasoline and hotel-motel taxes that go along with it). And trial balloons have been floated to put a casino in an area of the state, say Springfield, which is so down on its luck any economic revitalization would be valuable.

And of course there's always the possibility that long-tangled questions about Indian casino gaming will be resolved here and in Rhode Island, siphoning still more cash out of state coffers.

It doesn't ring true for a state with a hugely successful lottery to revert to its Puritan past and feel squeamish about promoting gambling. There are already programs in place to help compulsive gamblers, beef them up with new revenues.

But if the state continues to struggle to find ways to pay for "luxuries" like public safety, public health and education -- and residents keep voting with their feet on where to live and where to play -- there won't be much to worry about in terms of quality of life issues.

Maybe that's the reason that Senate President Robert Travaglini is once again sending mixed signals about staying. New forms of gambling can only help the two largest businesses in his district -- Suffolk Downs and Wonderland.

Like it or not, casino gambling translates into jobs, tax revenues on top of the state's take from the slots and table games and a form of entertainment that's not going anywhere.

It's time for a serious discussion of this issue before the state ranks 50th in terms of quality of life.

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Blogger Harry said...

You wrote:
the most chilling item is the tumble in lottery aid, which forms a solid foundation of the local aid dollars used by cities and towns for police and fire and other basic services.

Doesn't it bother a liberal conscience to finance a solid foundation of state aid to towns (including some quite wealthy ones) with gambling losses drawn largely from the working poor?

The lottery now takes in $4.5 BILLION per year, which is about $700 per citizen per year. That’s about $13 per week per citizen.

Is it clear that we should add casinos to chase a 'market' that we could only capture part of and that now totals only another $900M? Of course after a few years of professional promotion, the state will be able to 'expand the market' considerably.

If $13 per week per citizen is not enough state-promoted gambling, then how much would it take to make you squirm? Do you know where your own tipping point is?

BTW Massachusetts is not last in quality of life. Rather, the Commonwealth is pretty near the top of the heap in most economic categories.

January 19, 2007 11:33 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Yes, it does bother me to use lottery aid as a foundation for services. But I am also a pragmatist when it comes to the fact that people will gamble with the dream of getting out of poverty. I can't put my fingers on any proof but I seem to recall stories about how the state lottery has taken a huge chuck of out the illegal numbers racket.

The casino issue is much in the same vein -- there's a lot of Massachusetts money heading over the border to Connecticut, like it or not. Should we not talk about tapping into it?

Nor do I think the state is at the bottom of the quality of life scale -- otherwise I would have moved a long time ago. But it's hard to deny things are getting tougher to afford.

If only we could have a serious discussion about taxes -- what they pay for, what is basics and what are frills and who bears the brunt -- then perhaps we wouldn't need to talk about tapping into the gambling revenue stream.

January 21, 2007 5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. One of the largest failures of government per se is the inherent fraud, waste and abuse that I would guess is close to 30%. Massachusetts government now has it's nose in too many tents. How far government extends the "safety net" to the less fortunate is the larger question. I am of the opinion that most people create their own problems, and are therefore resonsible for solving their own problems. At some point you have to draw the line. Simple fact of life. Governor Patrick campaigned with his heart and not his head. I'm afraid it's going to come back to bite hime. What makes us able to enjoy the prosperity that we now do daily is that we have a fairly generous amount of disposable income which stimulates the economy. Take that away with higher taxes and the tent just may collapse as it did under Gov. Dukakis. No amount of smoke and mirrors will negate the fact that families are leaving Massachusetts in droves. We must have property tax relief and we have to tighten our belts. The only other option---is not an option.

January 22, 2007 2:38 PM  

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